How To Get Your Cartoons Into The New Yorker
(One Cartoonist’s Experience) Part 1
Posted on May 18th, 2010
A more accurate title would be “How to MAYBE Get Your Cartoons Into The New Yorker, MAYBE” — because no one can really tell you how. I can, however, give you some pretty solid practical knowledge about how to get your cartoons seen by Robert Mankoff, the cartoon editor, and perhaps give you some useful insights into how things work in the cartoon editorial department at the magazine.
The very first step I took in getting published in the New Yorker, was to call Robert (Bob) Mankoff’s then- assistant, and ask if I may come in and show him my stuff. Every Tuesday from 11 am to around 1pm, Bob sees cartoonists individually in his office, and he goes through the cartoonist’s submission (called a “batch”, consisting of 10-15 cartoons.) It’s first-come-first-serve, and when it’s not your turn you wait with the other cartoonists in a room a few feet away from Bob’s office. The room has a comfy couch, a desk with a computer, framed cartoon prints of famous New Yorker cartoons on the wall, and, oh yeah — some famous New Yorker cartoonists on the couch.
Your “batch”, if you’re a cartoonist who plans on taking this step, should have at least 10 unpublished samples of your very best work. My advice is to submit finishes, and not sketches (at least for a while) so that Bob can see what your finished cartoons look like. Basically, it’s like this: someone like Sam Gross can hand in a very rough sketch because Bob knows what Sam’s style is, and Sam doesn’t have to show him how it’ll look in the final stage. But if Bob has never seen your work, my advice is to put in the extra effort and draw the finishes — this will help show him what skill-level you’re at, and what you’re capable of, and whether or not you should go throw yourself out the window.
Let me say one thing about Bob. I’ve heard a lot of negative things floating around, but in my experience, he struck me as the kind of guy who genuinely wants to help. If you’re good at cartooning, he will give you more than just his time. He’s a cartoonist himself, and I can remember numerous chats I’ve had in his office about things like process, and writing, and well, everything you’d imagine cartoonists chat about. The difference was that I wasn’t just shooting the shit with a cartoonist, I was talking with an editor who’s job it is to nurture what talent he believes is worth his — and the magazine’s — time. I’ve had some frustrating moments with him, but that’s expected in a cartoonist-editor relationship. I’ll expand on this later.
I was so nervous the first time I walked into Bob’s office that one of the few things I recall from the moment I put out my hand to shake his, was that my heart was beating way way to fast and hard. Do you ever get that way when you’re really nervous, and you think, “can others notice that my heart is thumping like (insert your own creative metaphor here, cause I’m too lazy right now) — So yeah, anyway, you might say I got my cardio that day. After looking at my stuff, he told me that they don’t buy from a cartoonist’s very first submission. I replied that I didn’t expect to sell anything on my first attempt, and was only wanting to acquaint him with my work. We talked a bit, and he said he thought my ideas were good, the drawings polished, and that he’d expect that I’d have no problem breaking in. Let me say something about editors here — the good ones don’t say things to be nice. At this level of the game there’s no space for that. I know cartoonists who have sat in Bob’s office and listened to him say things about their work that could be considered unkind. Later on, I myself was told things about my drawing style that I didn’t agree with. But this is the editorial process, and if you’re a professional, you just don’t go home and cry about it. Well, you can, just don’t tell anyone about it. So at least on my first day, it felt good to hear him say that he liked what he saw in my work because I knew from experience that he was telling me the truth. I went home smiling like a bag of chips. The one thing that bothered me, however, was what Bob had said about having to submit every Tuesday. I could not imagine how I was going to fit this into my already demanding week. Week after week, after week. There was no way I could possibly write 7 strips a week for my daily newspaper comic, plus gag-cartoons for Parade Magazine, plus pencil and ink all of them in the space of 7 days. What that amounts to is writing and drawing about 20 cartoons per week. My temporary solution was to submit to The New Yorker the same cartoons that I was submitting to Parade Magazine (which I was just breaking into at the time.) But I was still having to pump out 20 written ideas and fully rendered drawings, per week. And they had to be good.
If you don’t live in New York City, and you’d like to submit your ideas to The New Yorker there are several ways to do it. They accept faxes, email, and snail-mail. Call Bob’s present assistant Jennifer for the guidelines, email specifications and address, or mailing address. I don’t have the number anymore but Jennifer can be easily reached by calling the Magazine’s editorial offices.
Next: The cartoon submission process at the New Yorker, the weekly grind, and why you should totally have lunch with a bunch of New Yorker cartoonists.
How To Get Your Cartoons Into The New Yorker
(One Cartoonist’s Experience) Part 2
Posted on May 21st, 2010
What a crazy business this is. We cartoonists should all be selling shoes. Everybody needs shoes. And there’s no mystery in shoes. You want black? High heel? Here! No one ever looks at the shoe and says, “What is this shoe trying to say? Does it have a unique voice? Is it funny in an ironic way, or is it just clever-funny?” Nobody picks up a shoe and says, “I can make a better shoe than that!”
I’m getting a little ahead of myself — I’ll be posting about content in a bit (that juicy, nitty gritty stuff), but not right now. Right now I’d like to explain a little about the submission process at The New Yorker because it helps to know how things work there, and it’ll answer a lot of questions I’ve gotten about why people don’t get their stuff back after they’ve submitted.
I’ve talked about how Tuesday is the submission day at the magazine. What happens in Bob’s office while you’re sitting silently across his desk is a kind of review in which he selects from your batch of cartoons the ones he thinks may be sellable. The rest he hands back to you, and, unless you have questions the meeting is over. This can take anywhere from 2 minutes to 15 minutes. There’s a lot of joking going on outside the office, and Bob rarely closes his door, so there’s usually an atmosphere of fun in the air. Even so, it can be a little nerve-wracking at times. I used to not know what to do with myself while he was looking at my stuff. Sometimes he’d stare and stare at one cartoon like he was trying to decipher the freaking Magna Carta, or something. I’d just keep my eyes on the stuff piled on his desk: a Roz Chast original that I was trying to read upside down (it never ran), an ancient copy of Harper’s Magazine. Cherry flavored Condoms. JUST KIDDING! ha ha. Anyway, the silence was a little stressful, at least for me, and sometimes he’d have questions about one cartoon or other, and we’d talk about the work. Bob would do this with every attending cartoonist, and later do the same, alone, with faxed and PDF submissions. At the end of this process he’d have a stack of “best” cartoons from everyones’ batches (batches? we don need no stinkin’ batches!). This stack would be the short list that would, the next day, become even shorter. Neadless to say, Competition is stifffff.
The following day, if it’s a typical week, Bob and David Remnick (the Editor of the magazine) get together to chop that short list down to a really really short list. And then from that really short list, they make some purchases. In the two days following this meeting, cartoonists who have sold a cartoon are notified by Bob’s assistant either by phone or email. The cartoonist then does a “finish” of the drawing and calls his/her mother to explain that they’re not worthless after all. Rejected cartoons that were not faxed or sent electronically — in other words, the ones that are submitted in person — are then filed in a folder with the cartoonist’s name on it and placed inside a file cabinet in the cartoonist’s waiting room. I used to call this “the garbage”.
A note about selling vs being published. Sometimes, unfortunately, these two things are not one and the same. The New Yorker can hold on to a drawing for months, years even, before they run it. And worse, some purchased cartoons never get published at all. I know. Harsh.
After the Tuesday meeting it’s back to the drawing board to come up with 10 or 15 more cartoons for next week’s batch, and the process begins again. But before going home everybody goes to lunch. My friend Caroline Dworin wrote a great piece for the New York Times about this traditional Tuesday New Yorker cartoonists lunch, titled “Doodles a la Carte”. Take a look, it’s a good read, and seriously, what can I tell you about the lunches at Pergola Des Artistes in Times Square that Dworin hasn’t already? I do, however, have one personal story to share. On one of my first times out to lunch with these guys, I sat down on the outside of one end of the long table that the restaurant reserves for this occasion every Tuesday afternoon. As I sat down, Gahan Wilson gave me a look, and someone mentioned that I had taken his usual seat. I got up and offered him the seat (who wants to piss off Gahan Wilson?), but him being a gentleman, he took a seat on the other side of Sam Gross, who sat on my left. Yet I persisted in offering him his seat back, and we kidded about it, with me ending up saying, “Now your lunch will be doomed. You’re not in your usual seat and something’s gonna go wrong with it.” What a thing to say to a man who draws ghoulish, monstrous things. Anyway, the moment passed and everyone at the table carried on in the usual manner of a hundred conversations going on at once, fueled in part by the free wine that the owner provides to all cartoonists at the Tuesday lunch. Eventually our entrees were served, and imagine my surprise to look over at one point to catch Gahan speaking to the owner of the restaurant about his meal — there was something wrong with it — he looked sad, worried, and it soon became apparent that I had somehow prophetically forecasted this doomed meal. The scene was capped when Sam pointed at me, “She’s a witch! She’s a witch!”
You no doubt can imagine what everybody yaps about at these things. It’s anywhere from, “what pen do you use?” to the more intense, “Does Remnick even KNOW what a good cartoon looks like?” (more on this in Part 3) There’s gossip. Gossip about the politics at the magazine, gossip about who’s in and who’s out, what Mankoff wants, what he doesn’t want. Complaints are aired, gripes are offered up to be related to. It’s a neurotic show-and-tell. I loved these lunches, because if there is anywhere a cartoonist can feel at home, it’s here. Where else will everyone at the table know exactly what you’re talking about when you say things like, “I think I might switch to a pen, because Mankoff says Remnick hates fat brush lines.”
By the time free desserts and cognac are served (Pergola Des Artistes treats cartoonists well), things are winding down and some leave to go back to jobs, studios, or walks in the city. You know, if I didn’t have the extremely demanding daily deadlines of a newspaper comic strip, I’d be meeting at Pergola more often. Sharing a meal with people I used to read about in books, with people whose work I’d dig for in used book stores — giants like George Booth, Gahan Wilson, Sydney Harris, Mort Gerberg, and Sam Gross — is, simply put, an opportunity of a lifetime. I’m thinking of going in for lunch sometime soon, just for the morale.
Back to the actual batches. I imagine you can guess why some cartoonists stop submitting. The weekly grind is extremely demanding. Imagine the frustration of going in there week after week, with your very best work, knowing what you know about the competition, having to fight the tide of rejection week in, week out — it’s terribly hard and, I should tell you, it can be pretty demoralizing. I’m not going to sugar-coat this — if you’re a determined professional, this is stuff you already know, and it should not discourage you from submitting. Also, to be fair, it’s important to realize that everyone has a different experience and I’m only relating my own. Just know this — if you have a full-time job, or a demanding freelance career, then expect to do a lot of extra work — a lot –for the span of time you want to submit to The New Yorker. If it’s worth it to you, I say go for it.
A note about the whereabouts of previously submitted material. A few people have asked me why their stuff wasn’t returned. I really couldn’t tell you specifically because I don’t work there, but what I can tell you from my experience of how editorial offices are run, it happens all the time. Editorial departments of syndicates and magazines are black holes for paper. Understand that these offices are extremely busy and often overwhelmed with submissions. The New Yorker magazine receives hundreds and hundreds of cartoons (someone told me a thousand) per week. It’s completely within reason that many of us receive a standard rejection slip and nothing else. And please, you guys, everybody should know this — DON’T SEND ORIGINALS. What are you, living in 1935? There is no reason, in this day and age, to send an original. What’s more, the editors really don’t expect you to, and — I know this is harsh, but — they really don’t care about our originals. So don’t send originals into the black hole. Send faxes, PDF files, or photocopies — these are very good ways in which Bob can see your work. If you want to impress him, the way to do it is with content, not with the kind of paper you use.
Okay, it’s really late and I’m looking over this entry with tired eyes and a brain full of espresso and wine, and I’m wondering if it’s too long, or have I been too harsh? Have I answered some of your questions? Maybe I’ve inspired new ones. Let me know. In any case, I’ll be posting more soon. There are a few other things a cartoonist should know when submitting to The New Yorker. Now that I’ve explained the mechanics of how things work in the editorial office, I’ll be talking about something a little more arcane in Part 3: humor, voice, style… and the politics that can muddle and confuse the art of cartooning for newcomers at The New Yorker magazine.
How To Get Your Cartoons Into The New Yorker:
(One Cartoonist’s Experience) Part 3
Posted on May 28th, 2010
Posted on May 28th, 2010
“What does the New Yorker want?” Many outstanding cartoonists have had some very good work rejected by Robert (Bob) Mankoff — or, more accurately, by David Remnick, the Editor In Chief at the magazine (he has the last say in which cartoons are bought.) There are perhaps a few people who can tell you without a doubt what goes on in those cartoon meetings between Bob and David Remnick, but for most cartoonists at the magazine, it’s all just educated guessing, and information gathered from direct experience. That’s what I’m going to attempt to convey to you here — speculation and information gathered from direct experience with the editing process. Better than nothing, right?
The truth is, 2 days after my first meeting with Bob (of which I wrote about in Parts 1 and 2) I sold my first cartoon. If you remember, Bob had told me that the magazine does not buy on a cartoonist’s first submission. Well, they did for me. Which means their “rules” can sometimes be broken, I guess. Only a couple of weeks after that I sold another one. What the hell, right? I remember thinking, wow — I’m on a roll. Was I on a roll? NOOOOOOOOO. For the next year or so, I submitted 10 cartoons every Tuesday without making a sale. Then came the discussions….. I would go in and see Bob, and I would say, in so many words, “what the hell? why am I not selling? It’s been months. Is it the material? what?”
I never really found out why the New Yorker would encourage me by accepting my work straight out of the gate, and then disregard any subsequent works without any concrete explanation. I do know, however, that I’m not the only one that that’s happened to. Some cartoonists even warned me of the pitfalls associated with early success. The following notes are based on what I learned at the magazine about content, and what you should or should not do if you plan to submit your ideas. It’s in point-form because it’s late and I’m sleepy.
1) Don’t try to impress Bob with affectations in your work. Be yourself. And if being yourself doesn’t jell with the magazine then it’s time to move on. One thing is for sure, the New Yorker wants an individual voice, not a hacked one. Many cartoonists try to guess what the magazine will buy based on the works of the cartoonists already in the magazine. It’s pure folly to think this way, and it won’t get you anywhere. So don’t try to emulate people like David Sipress, or Roz Chast no matter how good you are at it, because they already have a David Sipress, and they already have a Roz Chast.
2) A sense of humor can be a highly personal thing. What the New Yorker looks for (and all cartoon markets in general) is a cartoonist who can bridge the gap between personal and public. If you have the ability to produce gags that, not only make you and your friends laugh, but also a larger audience — the readers — then you may have something that is sellable, and that there is a market for. Keep this in the back of your mind. The reason I say this is because you don’t want to be thinking these things when you’re writing material. Otherwise you’ll influence the creative process with thoughts about what you think they’ll think is funny, rather than what you honestly think is funny. I hope that makes sense. The two lonely cartoons that I sold to the New Yorker were completely inspired. In fact, at the time the ideas came to me, and I jotted them down because I thought they were funny, I didn’t even know in what market I would submit them to. In other words, don’t write for The New Yorker (or anyone), write for yourself first. Keep it as honest as possible.
3) Be professional. Don’t go in there with anything that is not your actual submission — editors don’t have time for cute displays and clever little things that you think will dazzle them — it won’t influence the stance they take on your actual work.
4) Unless asked to, DON’T HAND IN ORIGINALS. Photocopies of the cartoons, one per page, on 8 1/2 x 11 paper is what Bob wants to see.
5) Don’t submit “cute” or “corny” humor. Geez, how can I convey this? It’s all so based on opinion, you’d say. All I can tell you here is to buy a few copies of the magazine and read all of the articles — all of them –read the whole magazine from cover to cover (not the cartoons), and then ask yourself what kind of voice the magazine has. Try to think of how your own personal voice would fit in with theirs. Sometimes it just won’t, and you have to realize that maybe the New Yorker isn’t the right place for your cartoons.
6) If Bob tells you you’re wasting your time, it’s probably true. However, it’s up to you to try again. I know of one cartoonist that was told he was “wasting his time”, only to sell a whole bunch a year later. So go figure. Here’s my advice — get the opinion of other professionals who won’t lie to you. If they believe you’re a good fit for the magazine, then keep trying. Try not to be delusional (I know, it’s hard. I mean, how do you know when you’re delusional?) This is all part of the frustration that I mentioned earlier.
7) Realize that the New Yorker is a literary, high-brow magazine with it’s share of elitism and a like-minded network of people who take pride in being part of an informed set.
One more thing — The most frustrating thing about submitting to the New Yorker, in my opinion, is this. You’re not just attempting to sell your ideas to one guy, but to two. It may be true that Bob Mankoff has a lot of say in what gets into the magazine, but I wish he had a little more say. David Remnick, as the Editor of the magazine, gets to have the FINAL say. Granted, Remnick can only choose from what Bob has selected as the very best cartoons of the week, but still, it irks me a little that the cartoon editor — who I believe should have the final say — is basically shopping your stuff to the Editor in Chief. Sigh… all I can say is, I wish Remnick liked my stuff as much as Bob did.